Last week LEGO Education celebrated its 40th birthday with the launch of a new product called SPIKE Prime, a kit that brings together LEGO bricks, smart hubs and motors all brought to life by the Scratch based SPIKE app and 32 lesson plans.
LEGO’s Education SPIKE Prime costs $329.95 and the app is supported by Chrome, Windows 10, Mac, Android, and iOS devices and uses a LEGO’s own variant of Scratch. SPIKE Prime is intended for schools and the price reflects its target market. The real value of the solution is in the lesson plans that will be very helpful to teachers who are just getting started with STEAM or have little time at their disposal to design and plan their own lessons.
I had the opportunity to test SPIKE Prime with my daughter, who is in 6th grade and homeschooled. We walked through set up and followed a few lessons together. We are not new to coding and robotics, but we do not have a set curriculum for STEAM as part of our school day. We have had mixed results using products such as Sphero and Anki Cozmo, so I was quite curious to test ease of use and engagement on her part as well as the degree of effort on mine.
Familiarity Drives Confidence
The first thing that strikes you as you open up the SPIKE Prime box is how familiar the set looks. While there are bricks that are unique to the set, it all feels like something you have seen your kids do before or something you might have stepped on once or twice if your children are avid LEGO players. Sorting and storing LEGO bricks is probably one of the most challenging issues a parent or teacher can face in the process and the team has thought about this. The box has a secure click-lock mechanism and shelves with pictures of the pieces that need to be stored on each one so that finding what you are looking for when you are building is easier. I was dealing with just one kit, but, of course, in a classroom, you will have multiple sets being used at the same time, which turns into a bit of a logistical nightmare without some help.
The familiarity with the LEGO bricks helps with keeping an open mind with trial and error. In many ways, the process was no different than seeing my kid build her Captain Marvel Ship set over the Christmas holidays. The worse it could happen if you make a mistake with LEGO is that you need to undo a few steps and start over. What is different with SPIKE Prime, of course, is that once the construction part was over, we moved on to phase two: experimenting with programming the hub. This took on testing hypotheses such as how many steps it took the Hopper to reach the end of the table or how heavy of an object was the Grabber able to lift without dropping. There is no better way to learn than while you are having fun with your peers. Learning and teaching blends into one over the lessons as kids are empowered to share ideas.
If you are familiar with Scratch, you will have no problem programming the hub. I thought that adding the ability to program the hub with lights was a welcome creativity bonus to add a more personal touch to the creations.
With some help from the teachers, it is easy to see how a 30-minute lesson could turn into a teaching moment on speed and velocity or strength and weight.
Flexibility for Teachers
Teachers can undoubtedly build full lessons around SPIKE Prime that go beyond what the app offers and bring in math, science and other disciplines to help kids connect the dots in a more fun way by looking at cause and effect.
The biggest concerns teachers have when you mention STEAM usually involves one of two things: time and effort. How much time will they have to dedicate to learning something new and how much effort will it require?
In my short experience, I was happy to see that there is no real learning curve when it comes to the lessons. They are structured in such a way that the students can play the instructions and get it done on their own, or they can be expanded by integrating other learnings, as I suggested earlier. Either way, the most time the teacher will have to spend would be around how they best prefer to plan the lesson. The thing I did while my daughter was building was to pass her the bricks and then I asked questions about what she was testing when programming the hub.
Another aspect I appreciated about the app is that the instructions are also very similar to those you find in LEGO sets that put visuals over words. Although SPIKE Prime is aimed at middle schooler, who should be more confident readers, I find that usually coding programs tend to overdo it with words which tend to end up boring the kids.
A Path for Growth
One of the aspects of LEGO Education I love the most is the path for growth that they offer kids. Since LEGO Education was established in 1980 they thought of ways to expand their products and efforts so that they could incorporate more kids. Of course, expanding your addressable market makes good business sense but LEGO did so with thought out products and solutions that really catered to the age group they were targeting.
As much as STEAM is popular with schools and kids are being told that it is their future, any parent knows that getting kids to stick with something like an after school program is a real challenge. Having the opportunity to integrate LEGO Education SPIKE Prime in the curriculum will create stronger foundations that can be further developed through afterschool programs like First LEGO League, which brings into the equation designing testing and evaluating robotic prototypes.
The consistency in the approach that puts experience learning, problem-solving, collaboration and communication at the center of the experience assures that kids learn critical skills for the future. They will also build an appreciation for technical professions that they might consider as their own career path. Any step to bring more diversity in tech is a welcome one! If you have ever attended a LEGO First event, you know there is no pipeline issue in K-12. We just now need to find ways to support these interests and passions all the way into the workplace.